The day’s practice on Tuesday morning began with an unscripted chase scene.
After the Oaks Christian School football team had huddled for instructions from head coach Charles Collins inside Moorpark College’s Griffin Stadium, a gust of wind intervened.
A stack of papers detailing the practice plans and/or game night strategy was scattered in all directions, sending the players chuckling and hooting as they hunted down the loose sheets.
That was a lighthearted touch to a weeklong chain of events that has been emotional, draining, surreal and, yes, triumphant for all connected with the Oaks Christian football program.
Make that the Oaks Christian and Calabasas High football teams.
For both football programs, their schools and communities have been greatly impacted in the past six days by two terrible events. First came the tragic shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks last Wednesday that claimed 12 lives; second was the subsequent Woolsey and Hill fires that forced thousands to evacuate and destroyed dozens of homes.
Collins seemingly sums up the fortitude and grit demonstrated by both programs.
“These kids have been through so much and they keep going strong,” said Collins. “They’re worried about their families and their homes and still they move forward and give great efforts. They’ve shown so much strength, so much resilience. When you have each other, you can accomplish at lot. God works miracles, doesn’t he?”
Calabasas coach Chris Claiborne echoed those sentiments.
“Faith and family,” he said. “All season long, we’ve preached about that to our players. It’s about being a family. It’s about caring for each other. When there is adversity, those are the assets that carry you through. That’s been the story for our guys. What we go through, we go through together.”
Last Saturday night, or one night after they were originally scheduled to play, the Lions and Coyotes each pulled off major victories in the playoffs quarterfinals. They now advance to prodigious matchups in the semifinal round Friday.
Undefeated and No. 4-seeded Oaks Christian (12-0) rallied to knock off JSerra, 35-34 in upper-crust CIF-SS Division 1. Second-seeded Calabasas (10-2), competing in Division 2, rolled past host San Juan Hills, 41-20.
Oaks Christian is now geared up to host top-seeded St. John Bosco, widely regarded as the nation’s No. 1 high school team. Calabasas, also set for a home game, is matched up with strongboy Upland (10-2).
Both football teams had scores of players and their families forced out of their homes by the fires’ paths. The good news: No players or coaches with either program had homes damaged or destroyed.
Oaks Christian senior quarterback/linebacker Josh Calvert and his family needed to evacuate twice — from their home in Oak Park, to Newbury Park, then to Thousand Oaks.
“It’s been challenging, no doubt about it,” said Calvert. “We’re a team that’s been through a lot of adversity the past couple of years and we’ve learned how to pull together and move forward. We always know we can count on each other.”
Calabasas junior quarterback Jaden Casey said scads of teammates were forced from their homes. Troubling times spark another kind of teamwork, he said.
“It makes you stronger,” said Casey. “You’re not playing for yourself and even just your team. You’re playing for your school, city and community. We’re trying to make everybody proud.”